Best Nest: Rocky Mountain High 

Skyler McKinley, SOC-SPA/BA ’14, regional director of public affairs, the Auto Club Group; treasurer, Denver Press Club; owner, Oak Creek Tavern; and fourth-generation Coloradan 


Illustra­tion by
Shaw Nielsen

map of Denver with a Coors can, hiker, skier, and Red Rocks

I was born in Grand Junction, Colorado. Now I live in Denver. In between, I’ve lived in Pueblo and Lakewood, Colorado, and DC.

A movie that gets Denver right is Every Which Way but Loose, an unlikely hit from the 1970s—unlikely because it starred Clint Eastwood and a chimpanzee. It captures the golden era of Colfax Avenue, a primary thoroughfare that was once known as “the longest and wickedest street in America.” Denver has grown and evolved, but Colfax has very stubbornly held onto itself. I’ve always loved that movie for that reason. The TV show that gets Denver wrong is Dynasty. 

Denverites can’t live without a good pair of hiking boots, a trail map, and a state park pass. And in winter, you’ve got to have snow tires. I’m an atypical Coloradan in that I don’t really ski; but most people would say a pair of skis is essential.

My favorite Denver tradition is the Turkey Toast on Thanksgiving eve at the Denver Press Club, where I’ve served on the board for six years. Journalists, media figures, and people in PR and government come together at the oldest continuously operating press club in the country—founded in 1867—to tell stories about how Denver used to be. You can just feel the history.

If I could transport one thing from DC, it would be the robust pedestrian and mass transit infrastructure. But DC can keep its work-life balance. If you’re at a dinner party in DC, the first question is, “Who do you work for?” In Denver, it’s, “What are you doing this weekend?” That’s not to say people here don’t work hard—because we do. But in Denver, we work to live.

One of the biggest misconceptions about Denver is that it’s a cowboy town. And while we love cowboy mythology in the American West, Denver is, in fact, a very cosmopolitan city. We have world-class dining—including three 2023 Michelin-starred restaurants—and fantastic museums like the Denver Art Museum, which has more than 70,000 works.

The biggest challenge about living in Denver is that water is running out and wildfires are an ever-present threat. As with every western city, conservation is incredibly important. We all love the idea of being cowboys with giant Ford F-150s, but we also have a responsibility to walk and ride the bus and to decarbonize as we’re able. 

A perfect visit to the Mile High City includes Pete’s Satire Lounge, a great, family-owned neighborhood bar without a lot of pretentions, where Bob Dylan played in the late ’50s, and a show at the majestic Red Rocks Park and Amphitheatre.

You know you’re from Denver if you say, whenever it rains, “We need the moisture.” We live in the high plains and Denver is at high risk for wildfires. You know you’re from Denver if you wear a Patagonia vest or Crocs, which were invented in Boulder. I like cowboy boots, a big belt buckle, and snap shirts, which were invented at Rockmount Ranch Wear, which is still owned by the same family on Wazee Street in Denver. You know you’re from Denver if you drink “Colorado Kool-Aid,” which is the Johnny Paycheck song about Coors Banquet beer, made famous by Smokey and the Bandit. Everywhere else in the country, if you order a Coors, you’re getting a Coors Light. But in Colorado, it’s a Coors Banquet.

My favorite nickname for Denver is Queen City of the Plains. We’re about an hour away from some of the best mountains in the world, but Denver itself is, I think, the gem of the plains.

The most famous faces I’ve seen in Denver are [musician] Nathaniel Rateliff and Wes Schultz, leader singer of the Lumineers, who you’ll see around town at a bar or a coffee shop.

When I need to get away, I go to Oak Creek, Colorado, a town of 900 people in northwestern Colorado, where I own a little bar and spend about half of my time. I call it the most Colorado part of Colorado; you’ve got ranchers, coal miners, ski bums, and celebrities. But my nest is best because Denver is a year-round recreation paradise. We’ve got some of the best hunting, fishing, skiing, and hiking in the world. At the same time, Denver has all the infrastructure and culture that you would expect out of a major American city. There’s nowhere else that you can go see a concert at the Mission Ballroom, which has the best sound of any venue I’ve ever been in in my life, and then the next day drive up to ski at Vail. Also, Denver is a place where, if you want to do something and you work hard and you’re good at it, you will succeed. The city will embrace you and help you grow. We love to celebrate each other’s successes.